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Language, Soft Power and Asymmetrical Internet Communication

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Document pages: 24 pages

Abstract: This paper rejects Joseph Nye s interpretation of the international spread of English as a soft power resource of the United States. As an alternative to Nye s model of the attractive power of America, this paper proposes an interdependence model in which communication occurs in a common language between participants pursuing diverse interests. If there is symmetry in understanding between participants A and B, neither gains an advantage. If understanding is asymmetrical, then soft power is enjoyed if B understands A better than A understands B. Succeeding sections document the dominant role of English as the common language of international political communication and the Internet s role in expanding the trans-national use of English as a foreign language (EFL). It argues that the dominance of English encourages Americans to be introverted while people who use English as a second language are more likely to have a cosmopolitan understanding of American political interests as well as their own. It follows from this that the diffusion of English as a foreign language will tend to increase the soft power of non-Americans for whom English is not their native language and weaken the influence of Americans who mistakenly assume that because those with whom they communicate are speaking English they also share the same political values and goals. The conclusion identifies how understanding, rather than language, can give countries lacking hard power a degree of persuasive or manipulative soft power, and that countries with hard power but lacking understanding must rely on brute power rather than smart power.

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